by Ryan Hubbard (Twitter – Web)
Adam Nawałka’s Polish side have been tasked with requiring at least a low-scoring draw at home to Ireland on Sunday, after rescuing a point with the final kick of the game against Scotland in Glasgow.
Star striker Robert Lewandowski was quickest to react after Kamil Grosicki’s free-kick was deflected onto the post; racing across goal to ensure both a share of the spoils, and second place in the group heading into Sunday’s sudden-death meeting at the Narodowy.
Despite chasing the game, it had all started so well for the Poles, taking the lead with their very first attack of the game. Breaking through the middle, Arkadiusz Milik picked out Lewandowski, who advanced on goal, and fired a right-footed shot underneath the stretched leg of Scottish keeper David Marshall, for his eleventh of the campaign.
The Milik/Lewandowski combination almost paid dividends again, with a quarter-of-an-hour on the clock, but this time the Bayern hitman was dragged wide, and the ball was lost as he tried to play in Grosicki. As the half-hour mark approached, Jakub Błaszczykowski missed a golden chance to double the visitors’ lead, inching the ball just wide following some excellent build-up play from Grosicki, Maciej Rybus and Lewandowski.
Failing to take advantage of their chances, Scotland picked-up the pace, and began to look for their equaliser. A Matt Ritchie cross squirmed just too close to Łukasz Fabiański with Steven Fletcher ready to pounce, while a flurry of attacks saw the Polish defence block on multiple occasions, before a shot was eventually flashed wide of the target.
But just as it looked as though the Poles would be leading into the break, up popped Ritchie to level proceedings. Some excellent work on the Scottish left from James Forrest led to a square ball to the Bournemouth midfielder, who expertly fired on the turn, straight into Fabiański’s top right-hand corner, with the final kick of the half.
Deflated by the sucker-punch, Nawałka’s side struggled to retain their early dominance; and despite a couple of half-chances, it was the hosts who looked the most-dangerous. Just minutes after the restart they should have taken the lead through Naismith, but he ended up clearing a deep cross when it looked easier to score.
Steven Fletcher too went close, but couldn’t get enough behind his 53rd-minute header; but eight minutes later he finally wrote his name on the scoresheet – and in some style. Grosicki gave the ball away in midfield cheaply, and trying to retrieve it, he could only direct towards Fletcher on the edge of the Poland box. First time, he hit a curling left-footed effort across Fabiański, leaving him with no chance.
Looking for a way back into the game, the Poles were dealt a blow with the withdrawal of Arek Milik, who picked up an injury; and the Poles’ effort was rewarded with little in front of goal. Although finally managing to keep possession, the Scots held an extra man behind the ball, and the Białe-Orły struggled to break them down. Chances fell to Łukasz Piszczek, Grosicki, and second-half substitute Tomasz Jodłowiec, but they were denied by either poor finishing or good goalkeeping from Marshall.
But with it looking as though Nawałka’s charges would slip to third in the group, Lewandowski’s quick reactions in the fourth-minute of stoppage time gave him his twelfth of the qualifiers, and broke Scottish hearts.
Level on points with the Irish, Poland can afford to give-away a low-scoring draw against them on Sunday in Warsaw, and still qualify for Euro 2016. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw would see Poland progress as a result of a better head-to-head or goal-difference respectively, while a 2-2 draw would give the head-to-head advantage to Martin O-Neill’s side. If either side win, they will be assured of second place, with the other taking a play-off spot.
Scotland – Poland 2:2 (1:1)
2016 European Championships Qualifier – Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland
Ritchie 45′, S Fletcher 61′ – Lewandowski 3′, 90+4′
David Marshall – Alan Hutton, Steven Whittaker, Russell Martin, Grant Hanley, James Forrest (Graham Dorrans 84′), Darren Fletcher (James McArthur 74′), Scott Brown, Steven Fletcher, Steven Naismith (Shaun Maloney 69′), Matt Richie
Łukasz Fabiański – Łukasz Piszczek, Kamil Glik, Michał Pazdan, Maciej Rybus (Jakub Wawrzyniak 71′) – Grzegorz Krychowiak, Krzysztof Mączyński – Kamil Grosicki, Jakub Błaszczyowski (Paweł Olkowski 83′), Arkadiusz Milik (Tomasz Jodłowiec 63′) – Robert Lewandowski
Brown 56′, Hutton 67′ – Rybus 22′, Krychowiak 83′
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)